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Sir Patrick Cormack: Underlined in green ink.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: As my hon. Friend rightly says, they are underlined in green and red ink. However, a number of those letters, although they are deeply saddening, are from people who have suffered the misfortunes of life which they believe are the result of corruption.

In the tough interplay of politics, people say and begin to believe that things which are done at least not corruptly are corrupt. I shall not mention them because I do not wish to give the slightest indication of corruption, but if right hon. and hon. Members present in the Chamber think back over a certain number of matters in the past two years where substantial sums of money have been paid by one person to another for one reason or another, it is not too difficult to suggest, quite wrongly, that there was an element of corruption in them. Where is this leading to in my speech? We should be confident that such accusations of corruption, which are frequently made, can never in themselves lead us into courts--either civil or criminal--in respect of anything which we say or do in this Chamber. If we do anything corrupt outside the Chamber, we can be brought to justice.

Sadly, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) has had to leave the Chamber just as I have got to his point. New rules of the House have

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properly been put in place in the past four or five years. If we transgress them, perhaps by failing to declare a consultancy--I have never held a consultancy, although I do not regard the practice as dishonourable, provided that it is properly declared--a financial interest or a foreign trip, we are likely to be either lightly reprimanded or severely censured and put on the rack through the procedures of the House. That is an advance under the modernisation of our procedures that I totally applaud.

We come back to the fundamentals. We should be liable to prosecution for bribery or corruption if there is a case to answer, and I agree that we need the filter of the Attorney-General. I entirely agree with my successor, the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who said to the Committee that the decision could be very difficult, especially if it relates to someone of one's own party, because there is always the great danger of leaning over backwards, and the proper stance is not to lean either forwards or backwards but to remain completely upright, but it is certainly necessary to require the Attorney-General's consent before a proceeding for corruption can be brought against a Member of Parliament.

It has always been the law that any proceeding for corruption must have the Attorney-General's fiat. That should continue. There is no need to draw a distinction between Members of Parliament and other citizens in that respect, but we are not as other citizens in the privileges that we enjoy and the duty that we have to speak up on difficult and controversial issues.

It is when the going gets rough and there is a witch hunt, and ideas of treachery, corruption or collusion are most rife, that the need to speak up bravely, and the dangers of doing so, are most pertinent. It is our duty to protect the integrity of the House against any diminution of our freedoms. Consequently, although I commend so much of the report, I ask that we think very carefully again on that aspect.

6.33 pm

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I want to raise some matters of privilege that perhaps the Committee has not dealt with fully. I have been in and out of the Chamber today, as I have had other duties, including attending a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation. I have not read the full report, but I have read the summaries and had conversations with colleagues over the past few months. I was surprised by the radical nature of some of the conclusions.

We should consider the process of dealing with privilege for an individual Member of Parliament and the way in which the Standards and Privileges Committee investigates issues of privilege and contempt. The present system is not working as it should. In 1981, I brought a complaint against the chairman of British Steel as I believed that there had been a breach of privilege. The Speaker, if he or she is so disposed, gives the individual Member the right to table a motion that is given precedence on the Floor of the House--it is taken straight after questions--to seek the approval of the House to refer the matter to the Committee.

That procedure is fundamentally wrong. It is wrong for the Speaker to have to decide whether the issue warrants being given that priority over the rest of the day's business. The Speaker is placed in a very difficult

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position. The decision cannot readily be deferred because it has to be taken on receipt of the complaint, which has to be made as soon as it is possible to report the breach to the Speaker. The Joint Committee might have considered a different procedure whereby the matter could be referred, if not directly by the Member to the Committee, at least by a truncated process. The Speaker, sitting in his or her quarters, might take the decision on behalf of the House.

The Social Security Committee--or was it the Liaison Committee?--referred a complaint to the Standards and Privileges Committee about the leaking of documents, so a Committee can refer a complaint and thereby route round the Speaker. I want an individual Member to have a fast route for application to have a complaint considered by the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Mr. Sheldon: To clarify the point, the complaint came from the Social Security Committee to the Liaison Committee and eventually came before the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I am also concerned about what happens when the complaint gets to the Standards and Privileges Committee. I have served on the Members' Interests Committee and its successor post-Nolan from 1983, although I missed a couple of years. The mechanisms whereby we deal with privilege are wrong. The commissioner for standards and privileges--not the Commissioner for Standards--should be given the power to carry out the investigation in precisely the same way as she currently carries out investigations on matters of standards.

I argue that for precisely the same reason for which I argued for the new structure long before it was introduced: I believe that there is a danger that the Committee can be politicised during the process of considering a complaint against a Member in the period before a general election. My experience is that that is precisely what has happened. To be honest, that is always likely to happen. There will always be members of the Standards and Privileges Committee who have an element of political consideration in mind when considering such matters.

Under the standards procedure, that is no longer possible, because the commissioner--acting independently, and as an Officer of this House--assumes responsibility for the investigation. The investigation should be carried out by the commissioner under another procedure, who would report to the Standards and Privileges Committee in exactly the same way as she does now on standards. The result would be a more neutral consideration of the important issues.

I do not wish to refer to individual complaints, but I can think of one where I am convinced that consideration of the matter under the heading of privilege was being distorted before the general election.

I wish to refer to privilege as it relates to the protection of Members of Parliament in the carrying out of their public duties. "Erskine May" refers to harassment and molestation of a Member of the House of Commons, and defines the circumstances in which a Member might feel in a position to bring a complaint. I wish to give an example of Members not being given sufficient protection.

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Last year, I was harassed at home by a Manchester business man. He rang me repeatedly and harassed me and my family. I reported the matter to Cumbria police, and the man got the message and stopped before the police had to intervene. Had I been prepared to identify the person, and had I referred the matter to Madam Speaker, she would--if I had provided evidence--probably have given it precedence. The matter would have stood referred to the Committee, which would have had to reach a judgment.

If my understanding of the system is correct, the person involved would have been brought before the House of Commons. However, the system does not necessarily deal with someone who is harassing a Member of Parliament. The person can be brought before the Privileges Committee of the House in so far as he is interfering with my rights as an individual Member of Parliament and preventing me from carrying out my public duties without fear of intimidation. In reality, we have no right to impose any penalty.

Equally, we could say that the matter could be referred to the police. However, because of all kinds of issues--I keep hearing one in particular: that it is "not in the public interest"--I am not convinced that there would be a prosecution. Parliament should be able to say to the authorities and the police that we require that the person involved in the intimidation be arraigned before the courts and prosecuted. That is what Members need to protect them from harassment by someone outside.

The harassment of me last year arose when I was investigating the background of the prosecution of Mr. Owen Oyston for rape. I had interviewed some 60 people in Lancashire over a couple of recesses and during the parliamentary term. I was carrying out the interviews with another person, a journalist named Andrew Rosthorne. He, it could be argued, has been acting as my agent. On 11 October, Mr. Rosthorne received 89 phone calls on his mobile phone from the same person who was harassing me. The calls were traced through Cellnet.

Mr. Rosthorne is writing a book about the matter, and we converse all the time about the case, and about another case that is coming before Preston Crown court concerning a Preston councillor, in which we feel equally under pressure from people who do not want us to get close to the truth. In so far as he is acting partly as my agent, Mr. Rosthorne needs some protection, but he has no protection whatever.

Mr. Rosthorne received 89 calls on one day and was harassed over three weeks. He was harassed last week on the telephone, and he can do very little about it. He has been to Blackburn police station to report the incidents, and he has referred the matter to Cellnet. However, he is being intimidated and harassed, and I am directly connected with him. For all I know, two or three of the strange phone calls that we received last week--one of which we managed to tape--were attempts to harass me as well. However, I have been unable to trace the calls.

This person is harassing a Member of Parliament and people outside involved in gathering information for that Member of Parliament. We are being impeded in our public duties. No process provides me with any sense of protection, and I believe that these matters should be considered not by the Joint Committee but by the powers-that-be when they consider legislation. Such

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legislation could go further than bribery and corruption. It might have to go into other areas where Members feel that they need protection.

I am worried about the legal position of the Intelligence and Security Committee, of which I am a member. As far as I am concerned, we are not a Committee of Parliament--to which I take strong exception. I believe strongly that our Committee should be a Committee of Parliament, enjoying all the privileges of Parliament, but it does not have those privileges. That will have to be discussed. The Committee might have looked at it--perhaps it is my fault for not drawing it to its attention. Perhaps the Government will consider what I am saying this evening.

Under present arrangements, the Standards and Privileges Committee cannot compel Members from the other place to appear before a Committee of the Commons. We can ask them, and they can agree to do it.

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